1/ Trump discussed withdrawing the U.S. from NATO with senior administration officials several times in 2018, saying he didn't see the point of the military alliance, which has been in place since 1949. National security officials believe that Russia is focused on undermining the alliance so Putin could have the freedom to behave as he wishes. (New York Times)

2/ Trump's legal team refused requests by Robert Mueller's team for an in-person follow-up session with Trump. The request was made after Trump submitted written answers to a limited number of questions from Mueller's office focusing on the period before Trump was in office. The two sides are reportedly at an impasse, with no meaningful discussion in roughly five weeks. (CNN)

3/ Michael Cohen's testimony before the House Oversight Committee next month is expected to be heavily restricted to avoid interfering with Mueller's Russia investigation. Cohen is scheduled to speak in a public hearing on Feb. 7 and won't be able to talk about topics that he has discussed with Mueller and may also be limited in what he can say about the on-going Manhattan U.S. attorney's office investigation. A person close to Cohen said "he's going to tell the story of what it's like to work for a madman, and why he did it for so long," adding that Cohen is "going to say things that will give you chills." (Wall Street Journal)

  • Rick Gates is still cooperating with federal prosecutors on "several ongoing investigations." In a status report filed by Mueller, the special counsel and the Gates defense team are asking a federal judge to – again – delay Gates' sentencing. (The Hill / Bloomberg)

  • Mueller has subpoenaed at least three new witnesses associated with Jerome Corsi, a Roger Stone associate. (ABC News)

4/ Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking at a meeting involving Devin Nunes, Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. two days before Trump's inauguration. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if donors tried to buy influence in the White House. Mueller is also looking at the meeting as part of his investigation into whether foreigners contributed money to the Trump inaugural fund and PAC through American intermediaries. (Daily Beast)

  • Trump's inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at the Trump International Hotel for the 2017 swearing-in ceremony. The expenses included $10,000 on makeup, $30,000 in per diem payments for contract staffers, $130,000 on customized seat cushions, and $2.7 million on a Broadway-style rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." In the 72 days leading up to the inauguration, the committee spent a total of about $100 million. Inaugural committees are required to document every donation with the Federal Election Commission and those donations are now facing legal scrutiny over who funded them. (New York Times / ABC News)

  • 📌 Day 694: Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Trump's inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC received illegal donations from individuals from Middle Eastern nations who were hoping to buy influence over U.S. policy. The inquiry focuses on whether people from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two Trump funds. Foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees, and inaugural funds are illegal. The inaugural committee was headed by Thomas Barrack, and Paul Manafort, who was Trump's campaign chairman at the time, believed that Barrack could help raise funds for the super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, which could collect unlimited amounts of money. Barrack said that Manafort viewed the super PAC as an arm of the campaign, despite laws meant to prevent coordination. The committee raised $23 million on Trump's behalf. (New York Times)

  • 📌 Day 693: Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Trump's 2017 inaugural committee misspent the $107 million it raised and whether some of the donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions, or to influence administration positions. The committee said in its tax documents that it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, $4 million on ticketing, $9 million on travel, $4.5 million on salaries and wages, and other expenses. Nearly a quarter of the money was paid to a firm led by a friend of Melania Trump that was formed 45 days before the inauguration. (Wall Street Journal)

  • 📌 Day 389: Trump's inaugural committee won't reveal what it's doing with tens of millions of dollars it pledged to charity last year. The committee raised about $107 million, but only spent about half of it. The rest, it said, would go to charity. (Daily Beast)

  • 📌 Day 392: Trump's inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by Melania's adviser and longtime friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. The firm was created in December 2016 – 45 days before the inauguration. Trump’s inauguration committee raised $107 million and paid to WIS Media Partners $25.8 million. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)

  • 📌 Day 404: Melania Trump parted ways with her senior adviser and friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, after news surfaced that Wolkoff's firm had received $26 million to plan Trump's inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017. Wolkoff was terminated last week because the Trumps were unhappy with the news reports about the contract. (New York Times)

poll/ 59% of voters support raising the top marginal tax rate to 70%, proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 62% of women, 55% of men, 71% of Democrats, and 45% of Republicans support the idea. (The Hill)

⚠️ Trump's Attorney General nominee William Barr faced questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing. Here's a few notes from day one of his two-day hearing:

  1. Pledged to allow Mueller to finish his investigation, adding that he wouldn't fire Mueller without cause while vowing that he "will not be bullied" by Trump.

  2. Would not commit to recusing himself from overseeing Mueller, while defending his unsolicited memo criticizing Mueller's examination of whether Trump obstructed justice. He called the memo "entirely proper" and said that instead of following the advice of the Justice Department's ethics office, the decision would be his own.

  3. Suggested that Mueller's final report may not be made public, saying but attorney general will produce his own report to Congress based Mueller's "confidential" findings. Barr said intends to be as transparent as possible, but that he would not let the White House edit or change it, as Rudy Giuliani has suggested.

  4. Views Mueller as a fair-minded investigator. "I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt," he said.

  5. Can "conceive of situations" in which a journalist could be held in contempt when asked if the Justice Department will jail reporters for "doing their jobs."

  6. Wouldn't direct federal prosecutors to target marijuana sales in states that have legalized the drug, breaking with Jeff Sessions's stance.

  7. Sources: The Guardian / New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / CNN / NBC News / Vox / CNBC / Associated Press / Bloomberg


Notables.

  1. A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to remove a citizenship question from the 2020 census. The case is likely headed to the Supreme Court. Critics accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes by to reapportioning seats in the House of Representatives in 2021, which could affect Congress, the Electoral College, and thousands of state and local political districts. (NPR / CNN / Washington Post / New York Times / Wall Street Journal)

  2. Trump ordered thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work without pay to limit the impact of the shutdown that's now entered its 25th day. (Bloomberg)

  3. House Republican leaders stripped Rep. Steve King of his seats on the Judiciary and Agricultural Committees after he rhetorically questioned how "white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King was denounced by a number of prominent republicans, including Mitch McConnell, who suggested that King find "another line of work." King has refused to resign, instead criticizing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, saying, "Leader McCarthy's decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth." (New York Times / Politico / Washington Post / The Guardian / CNN)

  4. Meanwhile, NBC News initially advised staffers not to refer to King's comments about white supremacy as "racist." Later, the NBC standards department revised their guidance, saying it is fair to describe King's racists remarks as racist. (HuffPost)

  5. Mitch McConnell blocked a House-passed package to reopen the federal government for a second time. One bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, while the other would fund the rest of the impacted departments and agencies through Sept. 30. (The Hill)

  6. House Democrats turned down an invitation to have lunch with Trump at the White House, saying the meeting would be little more than a photo op benefiting Trump. (Washington Post)

  7. More than 40,000 immigration court hearings have been canceled due to the shutdown. The Pentagon has directed additional funds to extend troop deployment at the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNBC)

  8. A federal judge refused to force the government to pay federal employees who are working without pay during the partial government shutdown, rejecting arguments from labor unions that unpaid work violates labor laws and the Constitution. (Washington Post)

  9. The Trump administration doubled the estimated cost of the government shutdown to a 0.1 percentage point subtraction in growth every week. If the shutdown lasts through January, it could subtract a half a percentage point from the gross domestic product. (CNBC)

  10. Rand Paul will travel to Canada for a hernia surgery. While Shouldice Hernia Hospital is privately owned — like most Canadian hospitals — it receives a majority of its funding from the Ontario government. Paul once called the idea of a national public health care system "slavery." (USA Today)

  11. Ivanka Trump will help select the next head of the World Bank. She will not be a candidate herself, but she will assist Steve Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney in choosing a successor to Jim Yong Kim, who abruptly announced his resignation last week, three years before his term was set to expire. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Politico)

  12. Trump served "great" "American fast food paid for by me" to Clemson University's football team. The menu consisted of more than 300 burgers from "McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King's with some pizza," Trump told reporters. Trump spent less than $3,000 on feeding the team and, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, he paid "for the event to be catered with some of everyone's favorite fast foods" because "Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security [and] much of the residence staff at the White House is furloughed." (NBC News / CNN / The Guardian / Washington Post)


Become a member.

Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.
Learn more